Can boring organisations make a viral video? Asks Olivia Manders

What videos go viral, other than cat videos, weird experiments, and shoots from hidden cameras? All this attention (views, shares and word of mouth) makes a video an excellent marketing tool. While marketing strategists are all over it, making branded content go viral is an enormous challenge.

New, innovative brands with a young target group – the popular kids in class – are successful when it comes to video marketing. They can best identify with effective viral video elements: surprise, humour, drama, and celebrities.

But there’s a new kid in town. This nerdy kid was there all along, but stayed unnoticed. Until now. Organisations such as universities and governmental institutions have discovered video. Communications porfessionals initially believed that connecting these organisations to thought-to-be essential elements such as humour or celebrities might harm their reputation, and not actually bring across their message. So, the nerdy kid kept using traditional, lengthy press releases without much creativity.

This is unfortunate. Think about it: what is actually interesting and useful? Watching event registrations of The Color Run, or snappy commercials or flash mobs created by brands such as Dove, Nike, AXE and Sportlife are fun. They will persuade people to buy products or join events, so marketing-wise they reach their goals. But watching a two-minute video explaining how to file taxes, or how the United Nations benefits society is useful content – and should be marketed better. People prefer light, simple video content. So rather than expecting their audience to adapt, the new kid in town should adapt to consumers’ needs instead.

Some content will never go viral. But while political messages aren’t often shared, US President Barack Obama’s video, in which he acts as Oval Office clown to promote overhaul of the US health system, got a staggering 52 million views. However, going viral shouldn’t be your only goal. You should aim to get your content to the people who could actually benefit from it.

It has become easier for institutions to share information with their stakeholders through video. The Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice video streams its court sessions. Non-profit organisations and political figures also use videos to influence stakeholders and campaigns. Universities showcase their ground-breaking research to businesses and communities worldwide – but are still trying to figure out how best to use their resources to do this.

Making an effective video is hard work, and involves making the right decisions. Almost any subject, no matter how abstract or complicated, can be made into a video. It just depends on how you treat it. After selecting which topic to cover, you must choose the right person to present and sell your organisation’s message while staying authentic. Unlike hip brands that will most likely feature a camera-savvy celebrity or experienced TV presenter in their videos, ‘dusty’ organisations can get away with just being ourselves. A professor or minister won’t be a flashy camera reporter, and you shouldn’t want nor expect that from them. And – more importantly – it would not actually be convincing to your target audience.

The shorter the video, the better. It should be a taster to persuade your viewer to discover more. The video is an introduction to the full story, and background information can be featured on webpage or leaflets. Adding music sets the pace and an ambience, and using animations and voice-overs clarify complex matters by stimulating viewers by seeing and hearing the information.

Location can also bring so much more to a story; it sets the scene, draws viewers into the story, and shows them in which situations the research actually affects them or their customers. Explore which location fits your story to keep the viewer interested.

For example, the three-minute research videos created at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) tell business practitioners how its professors’ revolutionary, relevant and sometimes controversial research can benefit them and their organisations.

So, the nerdy kid is finally stepping up and getting a voice by telling its stories on video. You should hear what it has to say.

Written by Olivia Manders, a media officer at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. She graduated from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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